During Chicago’s police accountability protests, John Catanzara—the Chicago the president of Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)—gave a harsh warning to his fellow officers. He told WGN Radio that “any member of Lodge 7 who is going to take a knee and basically side with protesters while they’re in uniform will subject themselves to discipline in the lodge up to and including expulsion from Lodge 7.” The comments were vindictive. By this time, scenes of police officers taking a knee with protestors had proliferated across social media. Many departments had engaged in the act, sometimes as a gesture of superficial reform, sometimes as a specious move before violently breaking up demonstrations. Here in Chicago though, even the superficial or specious acts of solidarity would not be tolerated by FOP-Lodge 7.
Catanzara’s comments were fitting for his personality. Catanzara is a bigoted, corrupt cop. Since he started with the department in 1995, he has amassed nearly forty misconduct complaints and has been suspended nearly half a dozen times. He is the first FOP-Lodge 7 president to be elected while stripped of his police powers. Prior to being elected, he was suspended for filing a false report against former Superintendent Eddie Johnson, accusing him of breaking the law by allowing gun control advocates to march on the Dan Ryan Expressway. In 2017, he was investigated for a social media post where, while on duty, he stood with a sign that read, “I stand for the anthem, I love American Flag, and I support My President and the 2nd Amendment.” Instead of being disciplined by FOP-Lodge 7 for taking a blatantly political position while in uniform, he was elected president.
In a normal labor union, the fact that a person like Catanzara was chosen as the leader would be a damning indictment. But, FOP-Lodge 7 is not a normal labor union, arguably it is not a labor union at all. Both in its history and constitution, FOP-Lodge 7 has acted as a representative of police officers as a profession. In the service of its vision of that profession, it has promoted racist and reactionary policies both within and outside the department. The reactionary politics of FOP-Lodge 7 are not likely to change soon, if ever. FOP-Lodge 7’s Constitution and Bylaws give the organization an authoritarian structure, so much so that it hard to consider them a “labor union”—that is, an organization that represents all police officers as workers—in any conventional use of the phrase.
Lodge 7 of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police did not begin as a labor union. When it was established on January 7th, 1963, the organization was referred to as the United Chicago Police Association. At the time, it functioned as a professional association that welcomed police officers from all ranks, including management. Even to this day, officers above the rank of sergeant can join the FOP. They are prohibited from voting on contract ratifications and holding board positions, but they can vote for leadership. The notion that the FOP is an organization that promotes the interests of a profession, and not the interests of workers in that profession, is in accordance with its historical role. Labor unions were not nationally recognized when the FOP was formed in 1915. At the time, many parts of the country considered striking illegal. Because of this, local police departments were tasked with breaking up picket lines. In some cases, departments formed their own “red squads” to preventively repress labor radicals. When a police unionization campaign within the Chicago Police Department (CPD) took off in the early 1960s, Joseph J. LeFevour—Lodge 7’s first president—opposed it.
In favor of the early police unionization campaign was Frank Carey. Carey was president of the FOP-Lodge 7’s rival the Chicago’s Patrolmen Association (CPA). Like FOP-Lodge 7, the CPA was a professional organization that represent police officers in terms of their profession, not as workers in terms of their class. However, unlike LeFevour, Carey realized that unionization could be used to prevent accountability measures. The unionization campaign of the early 1960s was in response to the appointment of Orlando W. Wilson as the city’s first civilian police superintendent. Wilson was appointed to the position after a burglar—Richard Morrison—admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy involving several corrupt officers. According to Morrison, members of the CPD were working with a cohort of professional thieves, helping them rob businesses, in exchange for a cut of their loot. The “Summerdale Scandal,” as it became known, led to the arrest of eight officers and the firing of Superintendent Timothy O’Connor. As the new superintendent, Wilson demanded the city pursue systemwide reforms. He raised the standards for hiring, introduced strict merit-based promotions, and actively recruited African Americans into the department. Many white Chicago police officers resented these changes. Using the CPA, they threatened to unionize to challenge Wilson’s reforms, often conflating issues of pay and overtime with accountability reforms.
Mayor Richard J. Daley acted as an ad hoc arbitrator between Wilson and the CPA. He settled CPA’s labor disputes informally, coming to agreements over wages and benefits in the mayor’s office instead of across the negotiating table. While rank-and-file police officers referred to this process as “collective begging” instead of “collective bargaining,” Daley’s willingness to readily concede to most of the demands put forward by the CPA placated officers.
While practicing his personalized system of noblesse oblige with police officers, Daley also allowed Wilson to continue with his reform agenda. Publicly, Daley supported Wilson. The fallout from the “Summerdale Scandal” and the city’s tense race relations were explosive issues. Openly supporting Wilson diffused both and allowed Daley to present himself as the liberal reformer he always claimed to be. Privately though, Daley was suspicious of Wilson. Part of Wilson’s reform plan involved shutting down police stations and centralizing operations. This reorganization of the department broke apart the ward boundaries of police districts. Machine aldermen opposed the plan. Centralizing stations meant aldermen could no longer name police captains and use stations for patronage jobs. Daley supported centralizing stations, but it was not without awareness that he risked weakening the same Chicago machine that ensured his dominance over the city. When Wilson retired as superintendent in 1967, Daley made no attempt to continue with his reforms. Instead, he appointed James Conlisk, a Daley “yes man,” as the new superintendent. As a result, the department rapidly slid back to its pre-Wilson era of recklessness and corruption.
After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1968, Chicago broke out into riots. As superintendent, Wilson encouraged restraint in crowd control, especially in matters involving race relations. With him gone, Daley was free to respond with brutality. He ordered the CPD to open fire on anyone suspected of arson or looting. Superintendent Conlisk went along with the order, no questions asked. Joseph J. LeFevour, as president of FOP-Lodge 7, sent Daley a telegram on behalf of the Lodge thanking him for the order.
In the aftermath of the Martin Luther King riots, a group of African American officers founded the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League (AAPL). Led by Renault “Reggie” Robinson, the AAPL sought to end the systematic racism in the CPD and its brutality toward the African American community. As an alternative to the predominantly white FOP-Lodge 7 and the CPA, the AAPL explicitly advocated for accountability measures. After a Chicago police officer killed a black woman by recklessly using a shotgun, the organization called for banning the use of shotguns by officers. In 1973, the AAPL filed a lawsuit against the CPD for its racist hiring and promotion practices. FOP-Lodge 7 joined the lawsuit, but against the African American officers and on behalf of the department. In the name of representing police officers, they supported CPD’s discriminatory practices.
By the mid-1970s, another police unionization campaign was underway. Unlike in the early 1960s, the campaign did not begin as a rank-and-file response against the accountability measures. Instead, it was instigated by an outside union eager to expand its membership. In 1975, the United Paperworkers International Union successfully sued the city for refusing to allow police officers to join labor unions. The legal victory set off a frantic three-way organizing drive between the Paperworkers, Teamsters International, and FOP-Lodge 7. By this time, the CPA had declined in influence, and FOP-Lodge 7 had asserted itself as the central police organization in Chicago. While still claiming to be a professional organization and not a labor union, FOP-Lodge 7 had experienced an about-face on the question of unionization. The organization had come to realize that unionization would give it influence over the nature of policing in Chicago. When the election for union representation was held in November of 1980, FOP-Lodge 7 won handily.
Members of AAPL opposed police unionization. The organization thought that a police union would not address issues of racism, and, if the FOP-Lodge 7 won the election, potentially make matters worse. They were right to be skeptical. During the mayoral campaign of 1983, FOP-Lodge 7 endorsed the incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne in the Democratic Primary. Mayor Byrne had opposed the police unionization campaign and was open about her reticent toward wage increases for police officers. However, she dominated the FOP-Lodge 7 endorsement election, winning a 25-0 vote within the executive committee and ninety-nine votes out of one hundred and twenty from precinct representatives. The main reason that FOP-Lodge 7 supported Mayor Byrne was because she was seen as the candidate best able to prevent the progressive insurgent campaign of Harold Washington from winning the nomination. When Washington eventually did win the Democratic primary, nearly all the labor unions that had preferred Mayor Byrne or Richard M. Daley—son of former mayor Richard J. Daley—moved into Washington’s camp against the Republican challenger. FOP-Lodge 7 was the exception. From 1965 to 1976, Washington had served in the Illinois state legislature. During that time, he worked closely with the AAPL to create a civilian oversight board for the CPD. Fearful that Washington would achieve this goal as mayor, the FOP-Lodge 7 vigorously opposed his campaign. Unlike other Chicago unions, they backed the Republican candidate for mayor Bernard Epton, with many of their members volunteering for Epton’s campaign.
Eventually, Washington also defeated Epton. As mayor, he remained headstrong on the need for a civilian oversight board but was clement with FOP-Lodge 7 when it came to wages and working conditions. In 1986, Washington agreed to a three-year contract with FOP-Lodge 7 that included a 5% retroactive pay raise for the first year, a 4.5% increase for the next two years, along with commitments to hire more staff. Nevertheless, despite this favorable contract, FOP-Lodge 7 refused to support Mayor Washington during his 1987 reelection campaign.
FOP-Lodge 7’s opposition to Mayor Washington was not only for supporting a civilian oversight board. As mayor, Harold Washington promised to diversify city employment opportunities and encouraged a culture of aggressive equity that continued even after his untimely death in November of 1987. During the late 1980s, the Chicago Police Department began using exams as part of their promotion process. The exam process created a semblance of fairness in promotions but often acted as a barrier to department diversification. Minority candidates tended to do worse on the exams than their white counterparts, and thus were often denied promotions. To correct this issue, Superintendent Matt Rodriguez, with the blessing of Mayor Richard M. Daley, elected in 1989, agreed to promote a small number of officers based on “merit,” which considered a candidate’s qualities other than exam scores. James McArdle, a white officer, sued the department, claiming that “merit” promotions were a form of discrimination against white officers. FOP-Lodge 7 came to his defense. Eventually, the courts ruled in favor of the white officer, and the CPD’s affirmative action plan was forced to end.
In many cases, unions have been at the vanguard of promoting workplace affirmative action, and when they have not, rank-and-file workers of color have been able to organize within them to get them to prioritize discrimination issues. However, organizing to change FOP-Lodge 7 is extraordinarily difficult, potentially impossible. The organization’s Bylaws give its leadership broad authority exclude members based on political ideology. Article I Section 6 states that “Any person who is a member of, or subscribes to, or support the principles of any organization having as its purpose the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or violence… shall not be eligible for admission to membership.” Even dissent from within the organization’s parameters is discouraged. Article II Section 2(e) states that members can be excluded if they do any work that is “contrary to the interests of… the Fraternal Order of Police,” while Article II Section 2(f) states exclusion can also occur for “improperly disturbing the peace or harmony of any meeting.”
It is important to recognize that these are not dead articles. In 2005, Shawn Hallinan and Wayne Harej—two Chicago police officers in good standing with FOP-Lodge 7—openly opposed to the policies of then-president Mark Donahue. To challenge Donahue in the upcoming election, Hallinan and Harej formed an opposition slate of 20 candidates, accused Donahue of mismanaging funds, and widely publicized the fact that Donahue underreported his union salary by approximately $80,000. Donahue still managed to get reelected. Once his position was secure, he successfully ejected Hallinan and Hareji from the Lodge. Indeed, after Catanzara threatened to expel officers for taking a knee in uniform, an image circulated on social media of an African-American officer doing just that outside of the FOP-Lodge 7’s office. Retaliation was inevitable. After seeing the image, Henry Hemphill, president of the Metropolitan Alliance of Black Law Enforcement, told FOX 32 Chicago that “what we are seeing is what blacks in law enforcement hear all the time. How come black officers won’t step up? We are seeing why. Not only is the agency she works for saying she will have blowback. Now the very union… is saying we will expel you and charge you.”
The ability to exclude dissenters while also maintaining exclusive representation over rank-and-file police officers is largely the reason that FOP Lodge-7 has become such a reactionary organization, even when compared to other conservative police unions. From this reactionary position, FOP-Lodge 7 has continually fought for contract provisions that put the organization fundamentally at odds with the public’s desire for police accountability. Article 6.1(M) allows officers to preview audio or video of an incident before making a statement or change their statement after having reviewed those materials; Article 6.2(E) allows officers to postpone giving statements after a shooting if the officer is feeling “physically or emotionally” unable to provide one. And, until the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against it, Article 6.1(D) ordered the CPD to destroy complaints that were greater than five years old. None of these provisions should be considered part of a worker’s due process. Instead, they are examples of how the collective bargaining process has been manipulated by FOP-Lodge 7 to protect officer malfeasance.
Despite the problematic nature of FOP-Lodge 7, many unions throughout Chicago are reluctant to condemn the organization. Understandably, there is a fear that criticisms of any union will contribute to a right-wing narrative that opposes all organized labor. Still, it is important to recognize that FOP-Lodge 7 has always understood itself as a professional association and not necessarily a labor union. In that role, it has promoted a model of racist and authoritarian policing, one that represses dissenters within its ranks and supports discriminatory practices against officers of color. If it is true that silent officers are culpable for not speaking out against the brutality of their colleagues, then it is equally true that silent unions are also guilty when they fail to condemn an organization that uses collective bargaining agreements as a means of evading accountability.